Images Money / Flickr money laundering...
Images Money / Flickr

With everything that Donald Trump does, it’s tempting to think “distraction.” Is he really mad at Sessions? Is he mad at Priebus?  Why is he telling the Boy Scouts stories about sex yachts and what billionaires do in the South of France? Did Sean Spicer really go out the door for not sufficiently defended Trump’s inane policies, or was Scaramucci brought in just because he provides better theater?

Even with something as large and serious as the ban on transgender personnel in the military, it’s hard to let go of the idea that this might simply be a feint. A misdirection. A ball tossed into the distance, so we don’t see what Trump is doing closer to hand.

But with Donald Trump it’s fair to say that nothing is a distraction. And everything. There are always so many outrages in progress that it’s easy to get engaged with any one of them and find that a dozen more have swung past with little notice. That’s the nature of a “Gish Gallop,” which by this point should really be relabeled a Trump Trot. Never let the paint dry on one disaster before launching another. And another. And another.

So when something happens that seems to be genuinely important, and that thing gets buried under such a mound of other events that it barely gets noticed … did it happen because Trump wanted it that way? Yes. Because Trump would just as soon everything sail past with no attention.

But in the case of Bill Browder’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, it’s very hard to think that the heap of items that relegated it to an appearance on CSPAN-3 and near complete disregard by the news networks, was not entirely a coincidence.

Because what Browder had to say fills in important gaps in the story of that meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump’s senior campaign staff and representatives of the Russian government offering information designed to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. And on a normal day, that testimony would be at the top of the news.

Browder’s opening statement can be found here. Rather than transcribing Browder’s statements directly, I’ve tried to fit them into the information we already have to create a coherent narrative.

Bill Browder is a US expatriate who split his time between London and Moscow until Russia sent him packing in 2005, declaring Browder a “threat to national security.” At the time, Browder was a major investor in the nascent Russian stock market, making investments mostly for those outside of Russia. But in 2005 Browder’s office was raided, he was booted from the country, and his assets were mysteriously handed off to someone unrelated to Browder’s firm. In an effort to recoup his funds and reveal what Browder saw as corruption within Russian law enforcement, he hired attorney Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky worked for three years to assemble a set of documents detailing what had happened with Browder and with others. For six months Magnitsky was shuffled between increasingly harsh prisons while his health continually declined. At the end of that time he was sent to a final prison, supposedly to obtain medical care. Instead he was beaten to death. He was 37. No one was ever prosecuted for his death.

Magnitsky’s death spurred Browder to come to the US, where he urged Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and Republican John McCain to take action. That trip eventually led to the passage of the Magnitsky Act, which placed sanctions on those directly involved in Magnitsky’s death, as well as other Russians who were involved in serious human rights abuses.

From the beginning, the Act was infuriating to Vladimir Putin and to the oligarchs who suddenly found moving funds out of Russia more difficult.

And really, that’s what this whole story is about. It’s not a story in which Donald Trump is the star. It’s a story in which Donald Trump is a sideshow. A bit player. It’s the story of how Vladimir Putin reassembled the Soviet Union, not as a nation, but as a criminal enterprise that spread across national borders. And it’s about how money stolen from the citizens living under that criminal enterprise became gleaming towers in Midtown Manhattan as well as billions in US dollars.

1990 — 2001

”Money laundering is easy”

Up until 2000, moving funds from former Soviet territories into the United States was a simple two-step process. First money rolled out of Russia into accounts in ask-no-question banks on Cyprus, like the bank controlled by now Secretary of the Treasury Wilbur Ross. The former Soviet republic to Cyprus route was so well established, that Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort opened an office there to handle the millions in under-the-table funds directed his way from Moscow.

 Then the money from Cyprus was sent into the United States by creating shell companies, like the 2,000 plus companies created by Irakly ”Ike” Kaveladze, the “eighth man” in the Trump Tower meeting. Those shell companies made laundering the Soviet bucks extremely simple.

In a a nine-month inquiry that subpoenaed bank records, the investigators found that an unknown number of Russians and other East Europeans moved more than $1.4 billion through accounts at Citibank of New York and the Commercial Bank of San Francisco.

In 2017, it seems as if Vladimir Putin has always been in charge of Russia, but  in 1990 he was … if not a nobody, then decidedly a mid-level oligarch. On paper he was an ex-KGB officer turned adviser to the mayor of the freshly re-re-named St. Petersburg. Over the next four years, Putin helped found and build a new, strongly nationalist political party in St. Petersburg. By 1996, he had moved to Moscow for a spot on the wildly-powerful Department of Affairs of the President of the Russian Federation. In 1997 Boris Yeltsin added Puttin to his presidential staff. In 1998, Putin moved into the cabinet, with control over how Russia managed internal regions. A month later, he also gained control of the FSB, the replacement for his old employer, the KGB.

One year later, Yeltsin appointed Putin as Acting Prime Minster and announced that Putin was his designated successor as President of Russia. Less than a year later, Yeltsin resigned unexpectedly.

Putin was acting president. He was also using his tools, including the FSB, to tighten his grip over the oligarchy that dominated not just Russia but most former Soviet states. While the United States worried that Putin was trying to reassemble the Soviet Union in it’s Cold War form, Putin had other ideas. He built a system that wasn’t about empowering the Communist Party or any other party. It was about cementing Vladimir Putin in place more firmly than any Russian leader since Lenin by putting him at the top of a hierarchy of oligarchs empowered to loot whole nations.

Among the oligarchs falling into this new team was Aras Agalarov. Agalarov was a high-ranking member of the Communist Party in Azerbaijan. His son, the pop-singing pal of Donald Trump, Emin Agaralov, was actually married to the daughter of Ilham Aliyev, who became president of Azerbaijan during Putin’s first term and never surrendered the office. Aliyev controlled the Azerbaijani state oil company when Soviet control collapsed, and holds enormous wealth. Like Putin, Aliyev is the wealthy authoritarian head of a single powerful party that ruthlessly suppresses opposition.

Aras Agaralov and family moved to Moscow in 1998, initially operating a number of businesses that revolved around consumer goods like shoes, along with video and software. He also became involved in channeling enormous amounts of money from Azerbaijan to the United States. Of those 2,000 shell companies that Irakly Kaveladze created by 2000, most were controlled by the Agaralov family. Agaralov is so powerful and well connected that he’s the only person in Russia with a private state on the Metro.

In 2000, an investigation spearheaded by then-Sen. Carl Levin identified Russian businessman Ike Kaveladze as a “poster child” for the practice of establishing anonymous US shell corporations that could be used to launder “ill-gotten gains,” according to the Michigan Democrat. Documents obtained as part of that probe into possible money laundering show that Kaveladze’s main client at the time was Crocus International, a company headed by Aras Agalarov, who in 2013 partnered with Donald Trump to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow.

“He Was their man”

After the hearings in 2000, U.S. regulators were already looking more closely at shell companies and US banks were more closely monitored under the Banking Secrecy Act (BSA). The BSA had originally been passed in 1970, explicitly to limit money laundering, but it left often many loopholes for foreign funds. In particular, it allowed foreign banks to create US shell companies by simply filling out the paperwork. Then the BSA regulations that affected foreign banks could be ignored through the fiction of working with the shell company.

Following 9/11, concern over terrorist funding led to amendment of the Banking Secrecy Act. Under Title III of the Patriot Act enforcement was greatly expanded and the days of banks directly money laundering through fictional shell company were, if not ended, at least made more difficult.

Restrictions were placed on accounts and foreign banks. It prohibited shell banks that are not an affiliate of a bank that has a physical presence in the U.S. or that are not subject to supervision by a banking authority in a non-U.S. country. 

With attention on shell companies and the Patriot Act bolstering concerns about money laundering, the old pipelines began to close. Though many routes remained for moving funds into to the US — including through casinos — many of those routes were relatively slow, allowing money to enter the country only a few million dollars at a time.

As oligarchs secured their control over former Soviet states and learned to suppress opposition to their monopolized industries, the money they were raking in was growing by leaps and bounds. But turning that money into US assets was not keeping up. They needed a new route.

Many oligarchs had already started turning to real estate as the primary means of shifting funds. Real estate laws in the United States offer unparalleled flexibility and freedom from reporting. The value of real estate is all but arbitrary, so developers could post any price they wanted on a luxury condo, mansion, or even entire building. If someone will pay $100 million for a home in Florida … then the home is worth $100 million. Even if it was listed for a third of that the day before.

And shell companies hadn’t completely lost their worth. Real estate developers could collect massive over payments from offshore sources, then turn around and feed that money back into “partnerships” and other arrangements. In a very real sense, the real estate developers stepped in to take the place of banks once regulators were watching banks. They were bringing in funds for a fee. The real estate itself was almost an afterthought.

The shift from shell-companies to real estate as the means of moving funds came barely in time for Donald Trump.

Trump was already bleeding from a string of bad decisions that left him with with a cascade of bankruptcies and a $916 million loss on his 1995 taxes. Trump’s massive Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City opened in 1990, but proved to be a disaster from before opening day. Within a year of its founding, Trump required an extra infusion of over $3 million from his father to keep the doors open — a jolt of ready cash delivered in the form of an illegal loan for which Trump later had to pay a fine. Even that wasn’t enough to keep the Taj Mahal from having to reorganize under Chapter 11 by July 1991.  With his bid to monopolize Atlantic City failing, Trump was forced to declare bankruptcy at his two other casinos in 1992. The cash-strapped Trump also lost the Plaza Hotel in New York to bankruptcy in 1992. The Taj Mahal limped on after reorganization, but the dollars from his father were just one of 106 violations of the Banking Secrecy Act that Trump had piled up by 1998.

Trump’s entire foray into entertainment properties turned out to be poorly timed and hugely unsuccessful. He had his fingers everywhere from a giant East Coast marina to a little riverboat casino in Indiana to a football team in a soon-to-vanish league. All of them came up losers.

By the 2000s, the property developer and casino owner with ready access to the capital markets and the biggest New York banks was no more. A series of corporate bankruptcies had limited his financing options. Mr Trump had become an entertainer who portrayed a tycoon on television and licensed his name to businesses looking for a brand, leading to fee-making opportunities as disparate as Trump University and Trump Vodka.

No US bank would give Trump a loan. He had a name, a reputation for big deals, and a real life record as a big loser. He was spending his time dining with rubes to trick them into investing into never-built Mexican condos on a sewage-strewn beach.

But there was a way out. As revealed in a series of investigations by The Financial Times, with his lines of credit cancelled and no bank willing to talk to him, Trump had already been tapping into  an alternate source of funds.

In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.

He was their man.

2001 — 2008

“Dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties”

The idea that Donald Trump is a big real estate developer is a marketing creation. The great majority of buildings carrying Trump’s name are either acquisitions or licensing deals. But the idea that Trump’s true genius is in selling his name is also just a story. That’s not where the money came from to bail Trump out of his poor judgement and abysmal timing. What got Trump out of the hole was something else entirely.

The first steps began not long after the Patriot Act was signed. In 2001, Tevfik Arif moved some of his business to the United States. Arif was a former Soviet official from Kazakhstan where he directed the Ministry of Commerce and Trade. His background was not in real estate. Previous to 2001, he had operated a jewelry chain, hotels, and had part of a highly lucrative monopoly on chromium obtained by taking over the former state-run company after the fall of the Soviet Union.

But in New York, Arif formed the Bayrock Group. The headquarters of Bayrock was on the 24th floor of Trump Tower and it was designed from the outset as a real estate investment firm. The second employee of Bayrock was Felix Sater. Sater was born in Moscow, but moved to the United States as a child. In 1991, Sater was arrested for assault after he smashed a maragrita glass and slashed a stock broker on the face and neck during an argument in a Manhattan bar. In 1996, hegot to know Donald Trump after he rented the Penthouse at Trump’s 40 Wall Street building. In 1998, he was convicted of fraud in a $40 million “pump and dump” designed to dupe investors into driving up the price of a penny stock. Sater’s felony convictions prevented him from working as a broker, but a hands-off approach from the FBI due to Sater informing on some of his Mafia friends, and the unregulated nature of his Trump connections gave him a new option.

In 2002, Sater reinvented himself, working at a real estate development firm called Bayrock Group. Bayrock’s offices are conveniently located on the 24th floor of Trump Tower in New York, which is where the paths of Sater and Trump cross. In a 2008 sworn deposition Sater said he would pitch Trump business deals (“just me and him”) on a “constant basis.”

By 2003, Felix Sater was Managing Director at Bayrock, and a partner with Donald Trump. Bayrock and the Trump Organization became so intricately entangled that Sater occasionally worked out of a Trump Organization office. He had Trump Organization business cards and identified himself as an employee of Trump. Sater worked with Trump on several aborted projects, including a $200 million hotel in Arizona and a series of Florida condos. Trump even sent Sater to Moscow in 2005, supposedly to search out potential sites for Trump Tower Moscow.

In 2006, Bayrock partnered with Tamir Sapir to build the $450 Trump SoHo. Sapir is a former Soviet soldier who fled persecution in the 1970s. He got a head start on converting Russian commodities into real estate during the 1990s, and was already a billionaire by 2000. Trump would go on to partner with Bayrock on additional projects in New York, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona — a well as in Poland, Turkey and Ukraine.

While Trump was working with Bayrock to channel large amounts into building projects, he began taking in a steady stream of smaller transactions in the form of condo and home sales to oligarchs and to second-tier officials. The principle agent in many of these condo transactions was Sergei Millian, the head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce—an organization that appears to exist only on paper.

Most of the board members are obscure entities and nearly half of their telephone numbers went unanswered when called by the Financial Times. An FT reporter found no trace of the Chamber of Commerce at the Wall Street address listed on its website.

The organization’s shadowy existence is no coincidence. It began as an explicit arm of Russian intelligence to gather information and spread propaganda inside the United States, and still seems to be deeply connected to Russian government operations in the US.

Millian arranged for Russian funds to flow into Trump apartments and condos. The primary requirement for Trump on these deals and others was not an attention to details. It was the opposite. Trump had to simply cash the checks and turn his back. With both Bayrock and Millian, this was the principle quality that defined Donald Trump — an ability to look away and ignore both the source of the funds pouring in and the nature of the deals they were making.

“You could say I was their exclusive broker,” [Millian] told Ria. “Then, in 2007-2008, dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US.” He later told ABC television that the Trump Organisation had received “hundreds of millions of dollars” through deals with Russian businessmen.

The deals with Millian were far from Trump’s only dip into the oligarch pool. He also hooked up with Viktor Khrapunov, the former energy minister for Kazakhstan with close ties to autocratic leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is the only President Kazakhstan has had since the position was established in 1990. 

Overall, Trump’s connection to Russian money was extraordinarily strong. At a time when other real estate developers were having difficulties, Trump was actually experiencing a Russian boom.

“We had big buyers from Russia and Ukraine and Kazakhstan,” says Debra Stotts, a sales agent who filled up the tower. The very top floors went unsold for years, but a third of units sold on floors 76 through 83 by 2004 involved people or limited liability companies connected to Russia and neighboring states, a Bloomberg investigation shows.

In 2007, Millian arranged for Trump to visit Moscow. After that trip, Trump invited potential investors to Trump Tower to explain that he was looking at developments in Russia. He was joined at that meeting by Felix Sater of Bayrock, in Moscow again on Trump business. It’s worth noting that Millian arranged a number of such trips for American businessmen — trips that were suspected as being involved in Russian collection of compromising information. Following the trip to Moscow, Millian joined Trump — at Trump’s invitation — for horse races in Miami.

But Trump didn’t end his Bayrock connection. He continued to work with Sater on the possibility of building in Russia with Russian investors.

Sater testified that after trips to Russia, he would “pop my head into Mr. Trump’s office and tell him, you know, ‘Moving forward on the Moscow deal.’ And he would say, ‘All right.’ ”

In 2008, the same year that Donald Trump Jr made his infamous remark about the source of Trump’s wealth.

There is strong evidence that Trump’s businesses have received significant funding from Russian investors. Most notably, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. made that very claim at a real estate conference in New York in 2008, saying “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” Donald Trump Jr. added, “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

It was that same year that Trump sold a single Florida home to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev at a price of $95 million though Trump had paid only $41 million.

Russian oligarchs had turned faux billionaire Trump into an actual billionaire. Donald Trump’s business wasn’t real estate development. It wasn’t licensing the Trump name. Donald Trump made his fortune laundering capital. Even the golf courses that Trump has spent his time vacationing on since sitting down at the White House were products of this relationship.

“As we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, the Great Recession — have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’ Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.”

2008 — 2015

“Sergei Magnitsky was murdered as my proxy”

In 2008, as Donald Trump Jr was in Moscow to brag about the influx of Russian funds, Sergei Magnitsky was being arrested by Putin’s FSB

Sergei’s captors immediately started putting pressure on him to withdraw his testimony. They put him in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds, leaving the lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in cells with no heat and no windowpanes, and he nearly froze to death. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole in the floor and sewage bubbling up. They moved him from cell to cell in the middle of the night without any warning. During his 358 days in detention he was forcibly moved multiple times.

Since coming to power, Putin had been pushing wealth into fewer and fewer hands as he built his new hierarchy of oligarchs loyal to him. Many of those same oligarchs turned up in Magnitsky’s list of corrupt officials. Imprisoning Magnitsky was done both to stop him from speaking and to torture him into renouncing his previous testimony.  In failing health following months of mistreatment, Magnitsky was sent to a different prison, supposedly for medical treatment.

Instead, he was chained to a bed and beaten to death.

Bill Browder began a campaign to bring attention to both Magnitsky’s death and the financial corruption he had uncovered. His efforts ultimately resulted in the Magnitsky Act.

In November 2012 the Magnitsky Act passed the House of Representatives by 364 to 43 votes and later the Senate 92 to 4 votes. On December 14, 2012, President Obama signed the Sergei Magnitsky Act into law.

The 2000 investigation into shell companies had moved the flow of oligarch money from shell companies to real estate. The Magnitsky Act became the first real threat to that new pipeline. 

Putin was furious. Looking for ways to retaliate against American interests, he settled on the most sadistic and evil option of all: banning the adoption of Russian orphans by American families.

The adoption angle worked two ways for Putin. First, it allowed him to directly punish families many of whom had the resources and access to pressure Congressmen in the United States. Second, it allowed for lobbying against the sanctions imposed under the Magnitsky Act to be cloaked behind the mask of “talking about adoption.”

Meanwhile, though some oligarchs were cut off from their access to the lucrative Trump Pipeline by the Magnisky Act, the relationships remain in place. Trump renewed his connection to Aras Agaralov, hosting the 2013 Miss Universe pageant at one of Agaralov’s properties, and traveling around the city with Emin Aragalov. The date of Trump’s night on the town with Emin aligns with the “pee-pee tape” from the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele.

During this period, Trump had meetings with Rob Goldstone, who would later arrange the Trump Tower meeting. Emin Agaralov also noted that they were working with Trump on the idea of a Trump Tower Moscow.

Trump later bragged about his contact with both oligarchs and the Russian military.

“I really loved my weekend, I called it my weekend in Moscow. But I was with the top level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”

2015 — 2017

I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

If Trump’s specialty in acting as a conduit for Russian real estate funds was an ability to ignore the nature of the deal and simply cash checks on demand, his forgetfulness moved to a new stage following his renewed interest in politics. 

He no longer knew friend and travel partner Sergei Millian.

Hope Hicks, Mr Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, said Mr Trump had “met and spoke” with Mr Millian only “on one occasion almost a decade ago at a hotel opening”.

in 2009, Millian’s organization, the Russian American Chamber of Commerce added a notice on their web site that they had signed formal agreements with the Trump Organization. That notice has since been removed. 

Felix Sater was also on Donald Trump’s “who?” list. As late as 2013, Trump defended Sater in a deposition. But despite the fact that Sater lived in the Penthouse of one of Trump’s buildings, worked for a company whose offices were two floors below Trump’s own office, worked for years directly in the office of the Trump Organization, both made trips to Moscow for Trump and made trips to Moscow with Trump, after Trump made his escalator ride into the campaign, Sater was forgotten.

Trump said, he didn’t really know Sater all that well. If he were sitting in a room right now, Trump said, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

The denials from Trump and his spokesmen came across a background of ongoing contact. Visits between Trump campaign members like Michael Flynn and Jefferson Sessions 

Despite Trump’s pretense that he wouldn’t recognize Sater, his business partner was there for aa meeting with a very specific purpose.

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

That meeting took place after Trump moved into the White House, but the more famous meeting is now the one that took place before Trump took office. The meeting for which Donald Trump wrote a cover story while on board Air Force One. The “adoption” meeting at Trump Tower.

That means you can list the attendees of this meeting at Trump Tower:

Donald Trump Jr — The Trump Organization
Jared Kushner — Kushner Companies
Natalia Veselnitskaya — Prevezon Holdings
Rinat Akhmetshin — Prevezon Holdings
Irakly Kaveladze — Crocus Group [Agaralov Family]
Rob Goldstone — Crocus Group [Agaralov Family]

The only people in the room who weren’t employed by international real estate development firms were translator Anatoli Samochornov, whose work for Veselnitskaya has been on an as-needed basis, and Paul Manafort—though the former Trump campaign chair has his own share of killer real estate deals.

The Trump Tower meeting wasn’t a mystery. It didn’t come out of the blue. It was the result of two decades of built-up relationships, partnerships, and dependencies. The purpose of the Trump Tower meeting was spelled out in the emails Donald Trump Jr received before the meeting was scheduled. Trump’s Russian partners — in a hierarchy that went straight up to Putin — were anxious to provide him ammunition to use against Hillary Clinton. They did so in hopes of destroying the sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, restoring the easy flow of money that all of them, including Trump, had enjoyed for so long.

Lobbying by real estate developers, including Donald Trump, kept reporting on these deals to a minimum and preserved tax breaks that greased the wheels for money transfers. This lobbying also worked to set property tax rates on many luxury properties at ridiculous lows. For example, a luxury condo in Manhattan pays property tax at a rate less than 1 percent of that paid by most American homes—a $350,000 house in Des Moines can easily end up paying more than a $10 million condo on Park Avenue.

Easy, cheap transfer of funds. No way to assess actual value. Minimal taxes on any real property retained. It was little wonder that many Russian oligarchs became Trump-style “developers.” 


  • Trump Taj Mahal opens. Multiple violations of the Banking Secrecy Act are recorded within the first year.
  • Vladmir Putin officially leaves his KGB position following the collapse of East Germany and joins the mayor’s office in Saint Petersburg.


  • Donald Trump obtains illegal loan from his father to sustain Trump Taj Mahal Casino and is fined by New Jersey gaming commission. Transactions investigated by Treasury Department’s financial crimes enforcement network, or FinCEN, which identifies at least 106 illegal transfers and levies an additional fine in 1998.
  • Donald Trump testifies before Congress to argue that real estate developers need special tax breaks that allowed him to bury almost a billion dollars in loses.
  • Trump Taj Mahal files for reorganization under Chapter 11.
  • Felix Sater stabs a man in the face with a broken glass after an argument.
  • Boris Yeltsin becomes first President of Russia.


  • Donald Trump declares bankruptcy at his two other Atlantic City casinos as well as the Plaza Hotel in New York.


  • Congress creates carve-outs for “real estate professionals” to claim greater losses and spread their losses across longer periods. 
  • Felix Sater pushes stock scheme backed by four organized crime families.


  • Trump’s taxes show over $900 million in losses, which will offset reported income and likely reduce Trump’s taxes to zero for over a decade.


  • Putin moves to Moscow and becomes Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Department.

  • Trump visits Moscow for the second time, and has an architect draw plans for a possible project in Russia.

  • Trump announces plan to invest $250 million in Moscow. Discusses two possible buildings.


  • Putin is appointed Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff


  • Putin promoted to First Deputy Chief, gains complete control of the FSB, the successor to the KGB
  • Felix Sater convicted of $40 million “pump and dump” penny stock fraud.
  • Collapse of Russian stock market increases pressure for getting money out of Russia, increases move into real estate market.


  • Putin becomes First Deputy Prime Minister, then Prime Minister, then Acting President all within the space of a single year.


  • Irakly Kaveladze testifies before Congress on his role in creating thousands of shell companies for Aras Agaralov.
  • Putin begins reorganization of oligarchy, with all deals funneling a cut to him.
  • Donald Trump launches a “exploratory committee” for a presidential run, with Roger Stone leading the effort.


  • Trump associates make presentations in Russia on the benefits of buying apartments from Trump.
  • Felix Sater and Bayrock begin partnership with Trump on numerous projects, including Trump SoHo.


  • FinCEN begins investigating charges of money laundering at Trump Taj Mahal following numerous violations of the Banking Secrecy Act.
  • Vladimir Putin consolidates power over oligarchs, reassembling Russia and autocratic leadership of former Soviet territories as a “super Mafia” hierarchy. Oligarchs that don’t become part of the new deal are jailed.


  • Trump begins appearing in “The Apprentice.”


  • Donald Trump signs a deal with Bayrock to cooperate on developme of property in Russia and sends Felix Sater to Moscow to look for potential sites.
  • Raid on Bill Browder’s offices results in hiring of Sergei Magnitsky.
  • Paul Manafort meets with Russian oligarchs to discuss strategy affecting “US politics, business dealings, and news coverage” to help Putin.


  • Putin ally Yuri Chaika becomes Russia’s prosecutor general. Chaika is a close friend of Agaralov and the supposed source of the information provided on Hillary Clinton during the Trump Tower meeting in 2016.
  • Felix Sater travels to Moscow along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Jr. to meet with investors. Sater says that Trump asked him to bring his children to Moscow and “show them around.”


  • Sergei Millian arranges trip for Donald Trump to Moscow. Felix Sater meets Trump there.
  • Michael Cohen joins Trump Organization to work projects in Russia and George. 
  • Felix Sater says he located Russian investors for the Moscow Trump property and selects a sitea closed factory named for U.S. anarchist terrorists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.
  • Paul Manafort helps Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych craft a presidential campaign as an anti-corruption reformer out to bring Ukraine to the West.


  • Sergei Magnitsky imprisoned for testifying against corrupt oligarchs.
  • Putin dissolves government, giving him a “free hand” before Russian elections. Putin moves from presidency to prime minister.
  • Trump sells Florida home he bought for $41 million to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million, even though home prices are plummeting following the housing collapse.
  • Donald Trump Jr: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”


  • Sergei Magnitsky beaten to death after supposedly being sent for medical treatment.


  • FinCEN notifies Trump Taj Mahal of findings that including numerous violations of the Bank Secrecy Act.
  • Felix Sater is made a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump” has office in Trump Organization area of Trump Tower, along with Trump Organization business cards


  • Trump describes his relationship with Bayrock as “limited” and describes them as “tenants.”


  • FinCEN notifies Trump Taj Mahal of additional findings of violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, and failure to correct previous issues.
  • Vladimir Putin moves from prime minster back to president.
  • Paul Manafort moves at least $19 million for a Russian oligarch through an account in a Cyprus bank. He later claims the money was lost.


  • Putin sets up new nationalist movement, which he leads through a series of televised rallies.
  • Donald Trump holds the Miss Universe pageant at a property owned by Aras Agaralov and spends the weekend being hosted by Emin Agaralov.
  • Trump and Agaralov sign a partnership agreement for another potential Trump property in Moscow.
  • Trump claims that he has “a relationship” with Putin and knows him.
  • Trump defends Sater, saying he doesn’t believe Sater has any connection to organized crime.


  • Pro-Putin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych that Paul Manafort helped put in place, is forced to flee to Moscow following protests.
  • Russia invades and annexes Crimea, launches ongoing attacks on Ukraine.
  • Trump claims that Putin sent him a “beautiful present” during his 2013 weekend in Moscow.


  • Trump announces he is a candidate for president.
  • Felix Sater told to put plans for Trump Tower Moscow on hold.
  • Treasury Department’s financial crimes enforcement network, or FinCEN, fines Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort $10 million — the largest such fine on record.
  • Trump says that Vladimir Putin gets an ‘A’ for leadership.
  • DNC computers hacked by Russian forces that collect thousands of emails.
  • Trump says he’s “not familiar” with Felix Sater.
  • Russia sends military forces into Syria.


  • Donald Trump Jr hosts meeting for representatives of Russian oligarchs providing dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for attacking the Magnitsky Act. Those present represent four large real estate firms whose bottom lines have been affected by the Act.
  • Trump identifies Carter Page as one of his foreign policy advisers.
  • Hackers release first DNC emails through Wikileaks.
  • Ukraine announces investigation into Paul Manafort’s millions in under-the-table funding.


  • Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, Felix Sater, Paul Manafort, and member of political party supported by Manafort craft a “peace plan” that cedes Crimea to Russia.
  • Donald Trump dictates “adoption” excuse statement for Donald Trump Jr. on board Air Force One while flying home from meeting the Vladimir Putin in which he says they discussed … adoption.

Note: Lengthy as this is, it’s woefully incomplete. Assembling all the connections between Donald Trump and Russia, along with how those connections have affected politics and lives in several nations, is a project that demands a lot more words than you’ll find here. This is a long way from a one-stop-shop on Trump and Russia, or even on how Trump’s real estate business was tied to his Russia connections. Thanks for sticking it out if you’ve made it all the way down here.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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